Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Castle, the Dragon, and the Very Unusual Queen

Rumer Godden's The Dragon of Og

Rumer Godden (1907 - 1998) was a prolific British writer of both adult and children's books with a career spanning nearly sixty years. The bulk of her childhood was spent in India, in a huge mansion on the riverbank in the town of Narayangunj, now Bangladesh.  Several of her adult books were made into films, the most notable being Black Narcissus (1938).

Pauline Baynes (1922 - 2008), the British illustrator of The Dragon of Og, also grew up in India, where her father was in the Indian Civil Service.  She began illustrating children's books in 1948, and is best known for her work with Tolkien, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, and her 600 illustrations for Grant Uden's A Dictionary of Chivalry (1968), for which she won the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Book #4:  The Dragon of Og (1981) by Rumer Godden, ill. by Pauline Baynes.  60 pages.

This delightful little book is based on, but not a retelling of, an old legend of Tundergarth and Corrie in Scotland.

Angus Og is a Scottish chieftain with a small estate - a demesne - just over the border from England in the Scottish lowlands.  The last Lord of Tundergarth had died without heir.  As a result, his nephew from the far North, Angus Og, inherited the castle and lands.  After battling other chieftains for his inheritance, the bellicose Angus Og moved in, along with his new young wife, Matilda.

For hundreds of years, the people of Tundergarth had lived at peace with the solitary dragon that lived in the pool of the Waters of Milk.  A fat bullock every few weeks was all the dragon required, and the people and rulers were more than happy to concede.  Matilda also thought this fair.  The queen, who had instituted a series of improvements to the castle and the people, had befriended the lonely dragon, and visited him frequently.

But Angus Og was a greedy and ambitious man, and not given to listening to the advice of others.  Angus Og decreed that the dragon should not have a single one of his bullocks, and that was when the trouble began.  Angus Og's actions cause the dragon to starve, making the dragon so angry that for the first time in his life, he shoots flame from his nostrils.  Eventually, despite the entreaties of his advisors and the pleas of Matilda, Angus Og hires a knight to kill the dragon.  The knight does so, but then Angus Og refuses to pay him the promised fee.  The knight retaliates by reuniting the dragon's severed head to his body, bringing the dragon back to life.  Angus Og still refuses to allow the dragon any of his bullocks -  the man is the epitome of a slow study - but after a few clever actions by the queen, sees the error of his ways and capitulates to a happily ever after ending.

Godden and Baynes both applied a great deal of research to this book, but never to the detraction of the story. The Scottish mythology of dragons is in full display, and life in medieval times is accurately portrayed, from the wooden castle to the cotter's children. Scottish terms abound, their definitions seamlessly woven into the tale being told.  Baynes intricate illustrations, both color and black-and-white, support the text perfectly.  A wonderful read and read-aloud.

The Dragon of Og cover art at Amazon

Question #4:

A young girl lives with her widowed mother in a small town.  The mother takes in sewing to make a living.  The girl wins a pumpkin and the mother bakes some pies with it.  A prize is involved.  Maybe 1960s?

Anyone recognize this one?

It's A Golden Coach for Callie Rose by Martha Gwinn Kiser, illustrated by Gloria Gaulke, originally published in 1964.

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